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Raymond Carvajal remembers watching Grey’s Anatomy and being captivated by the emergency room scenes.

“There are multiple traumas happening at once, there’s blood, and they have to stay calm,” he said. “I like being under pressure like that. I’m an active guy. I can’t sit behind a desk.”

Those scenes helped him find his true calling: being a nurse.

Raymond’s quest to make his dream a reality began at Guttmann Community College, a Robin Hood-funded program. But while he is now making steady progress toward nursing school, his life could have taken a very different turn.

“Growing up was hard. Around my neighborhood there were a lot of bad influences and I believe that influences shape people.”

He remembers the drugs and crime that negatively affected many of the friends he grew up with in Washington Heights.

“A lot of my friends now are either pregnant, in gangs, in the hospital, or even dead.”

Raymond gives his mother a lot of credit for helping him to become the man he is today. She set a powerful example, raising three kids by herself.

She worked as a home attendant and ascended the ranks, becoming a certified home health aide and learning English.

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Following her lead, Raymond has worked every summer since his twelfth birthday, volunteering at after-school programs or weekend tutoring programs, doing odd jobs, or working with his mother. When there were no jobs to be found, he made his own, starting a neighborhood summer program where he tutored and looked after local kids while their parents worked.

“I want my mother to be proud and say, ‘Wow, that’s my son.’ I want her to brag about me.”

While Raymond has always worked hard, it wasn’t necessarily in school.

“In middle school, I started slacking a bit, so I ended up going to an alternative high school where I had to catch up to graduate with my class,” he said. “I wasn’t really as focused on going to college at the time.”

But that changed after he visited Guttman during high school. During the tour, he chatted with Guttman’s administrators and faculty and liked what he heard.

“I talked to several professors who told me about how much access students have, their peer mentoring program – and I saw the game room. They also told me how they don’t have remedial courses.”

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What Raymond was hearing about was Guttman’s innovative approach. The first new CUNY in more than four decades, Guttman’s mission is to dramatically boost graduation rates by reimagining the community college curriculum and experience.

The school offers comprehensive support with staff and peer advisors. First-year students are required to attend full-time and are expected to participate in an orientation and a two-week summer program. There is also a mandatory curriculum for freshmen and no remedial classes, which eat up valuable financial aid dollars but don’t count towards graduation credits.

The approach is working. Guttman has a 49 percent three-year graduation rate compared to roughly 10 percent at CUNY’s other associate degree programs.

Initially, Raymond regretted not going to the same community college as his best friend, but now he’s glad. “I made these wonderful friends. We help each other out and we have each other’s back,” he said. “We created a family bond.”

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Beyond a close-knit group of friends, Raymond also found a strong support network of teachers, administrators, and advisors that he’s able to speak to whenever he feels like.

“I think [coming to Guttman] was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

That decision has put him firmly on the path to achieving his dreams. Next year, he plans to transfer to Borough of Manhattan Community College and begin taking prerequisite courses in nursing. After that, he hopes to earn his nursing degree at SUNY Binghamton.

“At least once a week I have to thank my mother. She had to struggle and make a lot of sacrifices, but look at me now, I’m in college.”

By: Eugene K. Chow

Photos: Alberto Reyes

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